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Canada’s Future Natural Gas Production

August 02, 2016

Canadian Natural Gas

With the North American shale revolution the key energy development of the past decade, it’s surprising to know that Canada’s natural gas production has actually been falling. Canada is still the world's fifth largest gas producer but output is down around 20% since 2007 to 15 Bcf/d.

As a free market economy without the over-influence of a national oil company, Canada’s future gas production is critical for the rapidly globalizing gas market. Natural gas is the world’s fastest growing major energy source and will be the fossil fuel leaned on most to meet the environmental goals set at COP21 last December. Annual global demand is rising by 6-8 Bcf/d.

Canada has enough proven gas reserves alone to meet current domestic demand for over 300 years. With low incremental needs, this massive endowment could make Canada a worldwide gas exporter at a time when internationally traded gas should reach 50% of all use by 2030, up from 30% today.

Yet, the main problem for Canadian gas production is the decline of its sole export market, the U.S., where production has risen almost 40% since 2010 to 80 Bcf/d. In turn, over the past decade, Canada’s gas exports to the U.S. have been sliced by a third to 7.1 Bcf/d. This decline will continue: U.S. gas production is expected to increase over 30% by 2030.

Enter the necessity of LNG, the fastest growing way to trade gas and a market that constitutes a rising 12% of all use. There is great potential to export LNG off the coast of British Columbia, where cargoes can ship gas produced in western Canada to fast growing Asian markets.

Now already online, U.S. LNG will be a competitor against Canadian LNG, but even with the Panama Canal expansion, the trip from British Columbia to Asia is still approximately two-thirds shorter than from the U.S Gulf. In addition, over half of American supply is slated for Europe.

Particularly over the mid- and long-term, China and India will need to import more of the cleaner natural gas as they want to reduce an overreliance on coal. By 2025, IEA projects that China and India will be importing about 55% of their gas, compared to 33% today. China’s gas demand alone will more than double to over 45 Bcf/d by 2025.

Hampered today by a global supply glut and sunken prices, western Canada’s LNG projects should come online early next decade. This is when expected higher oil prices will make Canada’s oil-linked LNG profitable, and the end of many long-term existing contracts will allow Asian buyers to seek new sources of supply. Centered on Asia, Canadian LNG exports could reach 4 Bcf/d in the mid-2020s and grow to 6 Bcf/d by 2030.

Canada’s domestic gas production will increase to nearly 18 Bcf/d by 2025 and could potentially hit 24 Bcf/d by 2040. Importantly, Canada has greater shale opportunities than others because the country retains many of the same conditions that enabled the U.S. renaissance, such as a free and highly competitive marketplace, an unmatched skilled labor force and service sector, and surface and mineral rights that can be owned by private individuals.

Technological improvements and “learning by doing” expertise are upping the productivity of new wells in western Canada, where some 70% of the country’s gas production occurs. In fact, tight gas from shale is expected to account for 70-75% of Canada’s production in 2025.

Most of this will come from the Montney shale formation in British Columbia and Alberta. Output there is projected to nearly triple to over 10 Bcf/d over the next 20 years. The Montney has been appraised with 450 Tcf of recoverable shale gas, putting it on par with Pennsylvania’s mighty Marcellus shale play, likely the largest gas field in the world.

As oil prices rebound, almost all LNG projects will be sourced by the liquids-rich Montney play. Per-well costs are between $4-10 million in the Montney, versus $6-8 million in the Marcellus. And with Henry Hub prices expected to exceed $4.40 per MMBtu by 2020, most of the Montney will easily clear the crucial breakeven price needed to make projects profitable.  

If so, even without the LNG outlet, which beyond currently poor market conditions also confronts strong environmental opposition, gas from Canada could once again become competitive via pipeline to the U.S., Midwest markets in particular.